Did you know you’ve been littering your entire life?
Not the traditional, leaving behind trash kind of littering, but a digital kind. We’ve been leaving behind tidbits of information with every click, retweet and “like.” We’re creating data – a digital trail of our habits, likes and dislikes. In the tech world, this concept has sparked a new buzz word: big data.
I was lucky enough to attend Bloomberg’s Big Data Summit recently in Washington, DC at the Newseum to hear how industry and private sector experts are leveraging this incredible boom of information in their day jobs. Panelists gave incredible examples: from the Department of Energy’s Green Button that allows consumers to opt into sharing their energy use to help them manage their use and save on energy bills, to IBM’s partnership between Watson and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to develop an oncology treatment tool.
I couldn’t help but wonder how this undeniable revolution will impact corporate citizenship efforts across the world. If corporations are becoming better at organizing and analyzing this data, how will it enable them to be better members of society? And what are the barriers that might keep them from capitalizing on this gold mine? Here are three ways that corporate citizenship efforts could tap into the insights of big data, and three cautions for corporations to think about before diving into big data.
How big data could improve corporate citizenship efforts:
1. Improve reporting accuracy and increased number of data points
From CSR efforts to public-private partnerships, every organization must think about reporting progress on corporate citizenship efforts in order to prove ROI. Big data would allow for real-time results with great accuracy on a larger number of data points, making reporting even more insightful.
2. Personalize employee engagement and community involvement
Imagine creating individual employee engagement plans for a company of 10,000. It would be impossible! But by collecting data from employees, it allows an organization to learn about a culture’s inner workings and employees’ preferences. Organizations can tailor volunteer opportunities or internal campaigns from these insights.
3. Re-define market segments
Marketers think they can sketch the “Walmart mom” or predict what males ages 18 to 24 will buy. But with big data, analysts will be able to “de-segment” and hone in on trends and differences between specific and narrow groups because of the large amount of information collected. This will be hugely helpful in narrowing the audience and issue area of corporate citizenship programs.
But with increased tracking and measurement, there are a few cautions that we need to keep in mind as we embrace this wave of using big data for good.
Important cautions about big data:
1. We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg
Panelists at the Big Data Summit were in agreement that we’re only 5-10 percent into the big data revolution. We can’t fully comprehend the amount of data we’re able to collect, and we haven’t realized the full potential of data analysis. It will be important to better understand the big data universe before fully diving in, or it may be like opening a Pandora’s Box of issues.
2. There is a need to invest in technology, infrastructure and training.
If we’re going to understand the beast we’re dealing with, we need to put serious resources behind it. Panelists suggested that in order to take full advantage of the data being collected, we’ll need to encourage training and education at the college level. It will also be critical for internal experts to be trained in data visualization and communication to aid companies in becoming what the panelists called “data literate.”
3. Information security is the next hot-button issue.
Consumers are just now realizing the value of their data. Corporations will need to gain trust through transparency in collecting data, as there is concern over a slippery slope, as recently noted in The Wall Street Journal in a review of a new book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. Authors Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier write about a frightening, albeit extreme, concept of “predictive policing,” which would punish people for crimes that data says they will likely commit, a la Minority Report with Tom Cruise.
With those cautions acknowledged, big data is sure to revolutionize corporate citizenship. It’s exciting to think about the great possibilities that it will bring to practitioners working on both the agency and in-house side. With good communication and transparency, corporations and the communities in which they operate will benefit from this data revolution.
This post is produced by B+SP’s Corporate Citizenship Center of Excellence, a team of experts, idealists and actionists committed to driving mutual benefit for business and society through the development and support of purpose-driven corporate citizenship efforts.
Photo courtesy of @BBGLink.